‘The Hiding Place’ or How to Showcase the Best in Theatre and Film…and Humans

Those that just read my film reviews might not realize I have become equally invested in reviewing live theatre over the last 2 years. Once live theatre began again after the pandemic I made it my mission to support it as much as possible and I became a writer for Utah Theatre Bloggers Association and have my own site rachelsreviewstheatre.com. So it is exciting when my love of theater and film merge and a pro-shot or filmed play or musical is released in the cinemas. It’s even more exciting when it is based upon a book I love and adore (and one the previous film adaptation was underwhelming to say the least). This new release is The Hiding Place based on the incredible book by Corrie Ten Boom. It is a filmed play directed by Laura Matula (and stage director Matt Logan) and adapted by A.S. Peterson.

You can see The Hiding Place as part of a Fathom Event on August 3 and 5th. You can find more information on their website here. If you’ve never seen a filmed play it takes a little getting used to as the pacing and performances are a little different although they do what they can to make this production feel cinematic. The play was filmed and staged at the Soli Deo Center in Nashville in 2022 with a live audience and the large, textured sets add an immersive quality that draws you into the story. The costumes are also do a lot to convey tone especially when we get to the concentration camp scenes where everything becomes appropriately grim and hopeless (production and costume designer Matt Logan, wig and makeup Allison Hearn.) The use of lighting and music for a straight play is also very effective (lighting design Stephen Moss, music by Don Chaffer with additional film scoring by Anthony & Laura Matula.)

All that aside, the main strength with The Hiding Place is Corrie’s incredible story of faith in the hardest of times and the wonderful performances. I was moved to tears several times especially in the second act as Nan Arnold Gurley beautifully captures Corrie and her struggle to survive and then amazingly forgive during the horrors of the Holocaust. You can’t help but wonder: would I have the courage of Corrie?

One part that isn’t as impactful as in the book is Corrie’s sister Betsie. Carrie Tillis does a good job in the role. It’s just such a moving section of the book and her character is almost angelic in its goodness that it’s tricky to translate to the stage. The play is also a sprawling adaptation at 2 hr 33 minutes and it might have benefited from a trim-down focusing the majority of the time on the concentration camp scenes and less on the everyday life/hiding scenes.

Still, if The Hiding Place is playing near you I highly recommend this stirring night of theatre showcasing the best (and worst) of the human experience. It should inspire us all to be braver and forgive more (And then go read the book. It’s one of the best I’ve ever read).

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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‘TMNT: Mutant Mayhem’ or a Cowabunga of an Animated Film

Hype for films these days is always a fascinating experience to observe. As a critic I try to go into any film with an open mind and as minimal of expectations as possible but sometimes it is hard to not be impacted by the buzz- both good and bad- before stepping into the theater. Initially when I heard about another TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) movie I wasn’t that interested. I’ve enjoyed the franchise over the years but is has never a favorite of mine or one I’m particularly passionate about. Then I heard the co-director of Mitchells vs the Machines (which I adored), Jeff Rowe was the director and it was receiving a new and exciting animation style I became intrigued.

Once the trailers came out and I heard about some of the creative decisions they were making like having an all-teenage vocal cast for the turtles my excitement grew. When an unfinished screening received a standing ovation at Annecy Film Festival in June TMNT: Mutant Mayhem solidified itself as my most anticipated film of the year. High expectations…

Fortunately for this film this is a case where high expectations have actually been met and then some. I loved this film! What an authentic, thrilling, innovative, exciting animated experience at the theatre. Nothing will probably topple Across the Spiderverse’s artistic achievement but I do think this TMNT: Mutant Mayhem has a tighter script with a unique and fresh art style all its own (those worried this will be Spiderverse-light can rest assured this is raw and edgy in a way Spiderverse isn’t. They both stand on their own as wonderful animated films.)

My favorite part of this film is the our 4 main turtle characters. All voiced by actual teenagers the banter is written naturally and their relationships feel authentic to the teen experience, which is something we have never gotten in this franchise. The dialogue by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jeff Rowe is funny, charming and again authentic to the way teens today talk. It was so refreshing to teen characters that aren’t the sullen miserable specimens we so often see in film but that have highs and lows appropriate especially to these teens that are so isolated from others.

The story in this film is also solid with Ice Cube voicing a convincing villain and Maya Rudolph as Cynthia Utrom. It’s not a new arc but it was executed well and the design of the Superfly as he morphs and changes is extremely clever and inventive. The animation in general has a roughness to it that I loved with the feel of pencil sketches mixed in with CGI 3D realism. The mixture of styles and how it ebbs and flows dazzled me!

The only miss is in the character design of April O’Neil (voiced by Ayo Edebiri.) She’s supposed to be a lonely high school student but she looks a lot older than that in my opinion. The character was fine just didn’t look like a teenager to me.

I also love the pacing of this film. How refreshing to go to a superhero movie in 2023 that isn’t bloated and over-long- 99 minutes! The design of the various mutants is a lot of fun as well even if the celebrity voice cast for those characters is unnecessary. The music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross added just the right mixture of nostalgia and modernism to make the film work perfectly.

If they give it a chance families and moviegoers should love TMNT: Mutant Mayhem. It is charming, energetic and artistically exhilarating. A thrilling time at the movies! I think they’ve made something special in a very solid year for animation. Let’s make sure it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle!

9 out of 10

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‘Haunted Mansion’ or One Slog of a Ride

There are some properties that just seem cursed. They seem like they have all the potential for good movie-making but no matter the take it does not turn out well. Disney’s adaptation of their Haunted Mansion ride seems like it is such a property. So far there have been 3 attempts to tell the story of the ride and all of them have been underwhelming to terrible and the latest attempt by director Justin Simien is no exception. It’s so strange because the ride has tons of lore attached to it so it’s not an inherent stretch like a The Country Bears or Tomorrowland based movies. In addition, Disney has made some of the most memorable spooky family entertainment over the years with movies like Watcher in the Woods, Don’t Look Under the Bed, Under Wraps, Phantom of the Megaplex. I’d even take another ride adaptation Tower of Terror over any of these Haunted Mansion movies (My review of Muppets Haunted Mansion and the Eddie Murphy movie)

A few years ago I ranked the Disney ride movies:

I feel like I should have a more interesting analysis of this latest Haunted Mansion film but I honestly found it to be a major slog. The director did such a poor job in drawing me into the story and characters I couldn’t wait for it to be over. It’s not the actors fault. They do what they can but all of the comedy fell flat especially from Tiffany Haddish who is hamming it up for the camera the most. I suppose I had a little bit of fun with the nods to the ride but I need more than ‘oh that looks like something from the ride…’ to entertain me (and this is my favorite Disneyland ride!)

There are some moments of heart with the little boy (Chase W Dillon) as he is grieving the loss of his Dad but because the laughs failed the whole thing felt relentlessly grim and joyless. It was honestly one of the most somber family films I’ve seen in a long time (I realize it is pg13 but it definitely has the feel of trying to appeal to families.)

Some of the visuals look nice but especially Owen Wilson and Danny DeVito are completely wasted with characters who are mostly standing around watching stuff happen for 123 excruciating minutes.

Interestingly enough my friend Kristen saw this same movie and had a great time so go figure! That’s movies for you. If you get to see it let me know what you think but I can’t help but feel Disney is dumping it in July instead of the Fall because they know they have a stinker on their hands. It certainly failed to entertain me.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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‘Barbie’ or Barbie is in Our World to Point Out Our Bogus Labels

Any follower of my content will know I’m a big fan of Barbie as a brand and cultural icon and an ambassador of womanhood. We as a culture too often diminish anything made to please women and prop up challenges to traditional femineity like the  girl bosses and action heroes as the only way that is valid to behave and act. I certainly want to see the bold striking woman but I also want to leave space for softness, love and the power of female friendship. As such I have reviewed over 30 of the animated Barbie movies on my youtube channel and have found them in almost every case to be delightful romps that try way harder than they need to:

Now we have a Barbie’s first live action film entitled Barbie directed by Greta Gerwig and written by herself and her partner Noah Baumbach. I’ve really enjoyed Gerwig’s work in the past including Little Women, Lady Bird and as an actor in the underrated Maggie’s Plan from 2016. With such a talented behind the camera I felt assured it could be more than just a toy commercial but I also approached the project with trepidation that it would be too hard on Barbie and be one more item in pop-culture that hates traditional femineity.

Fortunately my fears were mostly unfounded and Gerwig has given us a movie with Barbie that’s funny and has a subtle but needed message about recognizing the humanity in us all instead of resorting to easy labels. If anything it’s as much a critique of modern feminism as it is of Barbie and all she stands for.

That’s not to imply the movie is flawless. It definitely has problems- mainly its overwrought screenplay makes the viewer have to dig to find the meaning and some ideas can feel muddled or obfuscated in the search for laughs. Still I appreciate it’s a movie that got me thinking long after I saw it and made me anxious to see it again for more insight into particular scenes.

What’s most interesting is the film starts out with Margot Robbie’s Barbie thinking they have made a utopian society where women can be anything or do anything they want. But what she doesn’t realize is this is still a corporate version of utopia made by Mattel to sell more toys. When her real life owner (America Ferrara) becomes sad all the sudden Barbie becomes sad and starts wondering about death and her role in the world.

Ken played by Ryan Gosling is also becoming confused about his role where he is given nothing to do except to be there for Barbie and be ‘Beach’ all day. Gosling and Robbie are really wonderful in their roles and the production design/world building are a delight to watch. There are also tons of Easter eggs and nods that any Barbie fan will pick up on.

What I really appreciated in Barbie, however, was the lessons Barbie learns in her journey into the real world. Some have said the messaging is too heavy-handed, but they are missing the whole point with this critique. All of the easy answers to solving both Barbie and Ken’s existential dread do not work and only make everything worse. This includes both the patriarchy for Ken and the feminist discourse against the patriarchy for Barbie. We also see this at the beginning when the teenage girl Sasha calls Barbie a fascist despite not knowing her at all or understanding anything about her. Such labels and easy answers are not helpful- even if they sell more Barbies or make soundbite pundits feel better about how they manipulate the world with their supposed insight.

No, in the end, Barbie is about actually taking the time to listen to our fellow humans. Whether they be a Barbie or a Ken, understanding their humanity and resisting easy corporate and political answers is fundamental to a happy society (not just a superficially happy society we see at the beginning of the movie but genuine deeply felt happiness. The kind that makes life worth living.) It’s really quite hopeful and the reason why both Ferrara’s speech about what is expected of women and Ken’s speech about how little is expected of men are so impactful. It’s all BS and we know it but it’s easier to dismiss someone by invoking patriarchy or calling them a fascist than to actually deal with their complicated humanity as individuals. It needs to stop and who would have thought a movie about a plastic doll would provide this important call to action?

Actually I did because I’ve long believed in the power of Barbie. I’m just glad Gerwig did too. Plus, let’s not forget the movie is a lot of fun with bright colors and catchy songs. It may not be for little kids (which is a shame. I would like to see a Barbie movie for children in the theaters not just direct to dvd) but for mature tweens and teens it should start a lot of wonderful discussions and be a positive experience for all open to one of the most fun yet experimental films I’ve seen in a long time. A wonderful piece of pink cinema.

8 out of 10

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‘Oppenheimer’ or An Impressive History Lesson That Did Not Explode in My Heart…

Over the last few years I’ve had a bit of a messy relationship with director Christopher Nolan. I in general enjoyed his films without feeling the reverential devotion most of his fans seem to feel. Then he came out with Tenet and I was completely turned off by the entire film. Aside from the impressive visuals I couldn’t stand the pretentiousness of the character and story choices and the blaring score and unintelligible dialogue made for one of the most unpleasant movie experiences I’ve ever had. The ego that it took to put that basically arthouse piece in theaters at that point in the pandemic really offended me and lowered my estimation for the director quite a bit.

All that said I go into every film with a fresh set of eyes and so I went into his new film Oppenheimer hopeful he would win me back into the fold and after seeing it I’d say I’m partly there. It’s a mixed bag but I do recommend the film and fortunately the 35mm cut I saw had understandable sound design and a score that for the most part didn’t dominate the dialogue. That said, the film is mostly effective as a historical teaching device more than it is a moving, emotional character study. It’s impressive but not something I will ever be drawn to watch again or feel connected with on a deeper level. It felt like a clinical exercise and in the end left me cold and unaffected.

Like I said, the strengths of the film are the impressive attention to detail movie making capturing the 1930s setting and Los Alamos. Also the detonation scene was very well done and I kind of wish the movie had stopped there because the next 45 minutes felt repetitive and full of expository moralizing. Especially when you have such a simple concept of a right and wrong for atomic weapons scores of witnesses and dialogue begin to try our patience as viewers.

What’s interesting about Oppenheimer is I wasn’t ever bored, which is saying something for a 180 minute movie. It was interesting to see what was going to happen and to learn about these events of history. I felt the same way about Nolan’s Dunkirk, but I think that movie moved me more emotionally with the simpler linear narrative and community spirit. Plus Dunkirk was a lot shorter at only 106 minutes.

A big miss for me in the film was the female characters especially Florence Pugh’s Jean Tatlock who I have learned since watching was not portrayed accurately but even Emily Blunt’s character Kitty Oppenheimer exists only to provide motivation for Oppenheimer. Literally it is implied if he doesn’t value and love them they have no reason to live. The nudity was also unnecessary and frankly given the time and context made the female characters look silly.

Most of the other cast is good, but I didn’t see a lot that wowed me including Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer and Robert Downey Jr as Lewis Strauss (the Strauss side of the story was less compelling and I did not care for the non-linear format inserting his scenes in black and white into the Oppenheimer story. It broke up momentum for the more interesting Los Alamos storyline.)

Still, I would recommend Oppenheimer. It’s impressive a studio would spend $100 million on such a methodical, serious historical epic that many mainstream filmgoers might have trouble connecting with. I left the theater feeling like I’d learned something and it was awe inspiring to watch but Nolan did not develop his characters or story in a way that moved me or left me with much other than a clinical exercise in historical moviemaking. Take that for what you will.

7 out of 10

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‘Mission: Impossible- Dead Reckoning Part 1’ or Can a Movie Be Just Pure Spectacle? Yes, Yes it Can…

Anyone who reads my reviews regularly knows I’m usually all about story. Is the narrative gripping? Am I invested in the characters? These are questions I demand answers to in most films. Recently I wrote a whole piece about how Pixar is making movies based on concept pitches more than narratives or stories and how that was a problem.

Well, there are exceptions to every rule and Mission: Impossible- Dead Reckoning Part 1 is such an exception. I am not now nor have I ever been invested in the story or characters of this franchise or this film, but the set pieces are so thrilling and achieved with such flair that I am entertained.

In a certain respect it’s more like watching a reality show than a movie. I can practically hear the announcer saying ‘This week on ‘Will Tom Cruise Die? he jumps off a cliff while riding a motorcycle.” This shouldn’t be enough to satisfy me, but I’ve seen the film twice and left with my jaw on the floor both times. They are just that good.

They do try to sprinkle in mumbo-jumbo about AI, magic keys and “the entity” but I could care less. Some of my friends who are actually invested in this universe were a little disappointed in what happens to the characters, particularly a fan-favorite I won’t spoil, but I barely remember what happens from movie-to-movie in this franchise let alone be invested in current characters. Last year’s Top Gun Maverick was way more impactful character and plot-wise than any of the Mission Impossible movies including this one.

I did enjoy the overall team spirit to the action Dead Reckoning Part 1 had that some of the other MI films haven’t had. This one was more than just the Tom Cruise show. A friend of mine felt it was a little cult-like in the call for unity and loyalty to the group, and I suppose that’s fair, but creating a sense of family goes along with the territory for this type of action film these days (I probably would have been less generous to Fast X if I had seen this film first. They even both have similar chases in Italy. This film being the far superior of the two with perhaps one of the best car chases I’ve ever seen on film.)

There are definitely times in this film where the exposition becomes too much, and I become anxious for the next stunt and then they give it to us and I’m happy. I suppose everyone is allowed to have a stupid movie that they like, and Mission: Impossible- Dead Reckoning Part 1 is mine for this summer. It’s dopey but thrilling, and I recommend seeing it on the biggest screen possible while you still have the chance.

7 out of 10

Smile worthy

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Blind Spot 91: FACE/OFF

Each year when I make my Blind Spot selections I try to pick a variety to keep it fun for me and hopefully for my readers. There’s some international and arthouse favorites. Some critical darlings and box office successes I’ve missed and also some cult classics with a devoted following. This month’s pick, 1997’s Face/Off is the latter and I’m happy to finally check it off my list. It has some problems, mostly with pacing, but the premise is entertaining enough and the 2 lead performances are so good that it works.

Face/Off is directed by Hong Kong legend John Woo, and I must be honest it’s the first of his films I have seen. My friend said she would give me a list of Hong Kong action to watch so I hopefully will make up for that but you can definitely feel his action roots in this film. The action is guttural and brutal with no punches being pulled. Even children and teens are put in peril with shocking results.

We also have the  entertaining premise of Nic Cage and John Travolta switching faces in a new technology (the former is a ‘criminal mastermind’ Castor Troy, and the latter is the FBI agent, Sean Archer, who’s son was murdered by Troy. )Both actors are up for the camp factor of portraying the other’s personality traits and ticks and these antics are the best part of the movie.

Unfortunately it is also way too long and the premise starts to lose its novelty after a bit and things start to feel repetitive. This movie would be so much better at a 90-100 minute mark not 138. However, the supporting cast is also excellent with the likes of Joan Allen, Gina Gershon, James Denton (I’ve interviewed him!) and Margaret Cho.

All that said, Face/Off is a fun ride and when it works it really does work. I know there have been long talks of doing a sequel and I don’t know if that would be successful given the age of Cage and Travolta but a spinoff with them as “mentors” could be fun.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Current Mini Reviews (Sound of Freedom, Simulant, Nimona)

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well. I have a few films to catch you up on. You will have to let me know if you’ve seen these films and what you think of them.

Sound of Freedom

Movie Review: 'Sound of Freedom' - Catholic Review

There aren’t that many movies that premiere in Utah but the new film from Angel Studios, Sound of Freedom, did and I had a great time going to the premiere last week.

Fun as it was to walk the red carpet that experience of course wouldn’t impact my view of the film so what did I think? It’s definitely a tough watch and I have my reservations but overall I found it well made and a gripping story.

Now we should always watch these ‘based on a true story’ films with a grain of salt and this is no exception. It paints Operation Underground founder Tim Ballard with a near-superhero brush and it would have been nice to become invested in a more flawed protagonist. It’s like it was written by Ballard and he didn’t want the tiniest doubt of his dedication and machismo to be expressed.

That said, Sound of Freedom is extremely well made and you can feel the money that went into every frame. The acting is also excellent from the whole cast including Jim Caviezel as Ballard. It is a tough watch at times delving into human trafficking, pedophilia and child sex work. I do not know how they got away with a PG-13 rating on this one but I was definitely disgusted and repulsed which made the heroics a bit more palatable even if they leaned to much into propaganda territory for my comfort level. Still, Sound of Freedom will inspire you to take action and do some good yourself like Ballard has tried to do even if it is on a smaller scale in your own community.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy



A lot of times I feel like sci-fi films become too much style over substance. They get so caught up in the world building and real world allegories that they forget to tell a compelling story. This is why I enjoyed director April Mullen’s tight little thriller Simulant. In this refreshingly 90 minute film she takes us into a world where we can have androids made with the memories of our past loved ones. In fact, FAYE (Jordana Brewster) has done just that with her husband EVAN (Robbie Amell). This obviously does not solve her grief and things get more complicated as a programmer named Casey (Simu Liu) becomes involved and an investigator played by Sam Worthington.

There are elements of Simulant where you can feel the small budget in the cinematography and action but the overall story is tightly told with a compelling message about love and grief. It’s not a masterpiece by any means but I think worth 90 minutes of your time.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Netflix's 'Nimona' Adaptation Has a Star-Studded Queer Cast | Them


I must admit I first saw Nimona way back during a press screening this April, so I have been sitting on my thoughts for nearly 4 months. And now after the nearly completely positive reviews online I watched it again to make sure I agreed with my initial response and I did. I’m sorry folks but I found Nimona to be bit of a slog. I’m happy for all involved that it got made but I wish they had given our lead character a more interesting story.

I am also willing to admit that high fantasy is almost never for me, so I’ve struggled with whether I should even write this review. However, on the off chance that others reading were underwhelmed by it perhaps its worth putting my opinion out there…

Nimona is a shapeshifter in this world of knights and heroes.  One day she meets a man named Ballister who has gone into hiding after being framed for murdering the Queen Valerin. The two then go on a mission to clear Ballister’s name and get revenge on the duplicitous Director.

Much has been made about the representation in Nimona and I’d agree that is a refreshing aspect. It’s nice to have fully fleshed out queer relationships and not just the token representation we’ve gotten in other animated films like Strange World. I just wish I found the story more compelling. It’s as basic a high fantasy revenge saga as it gets. However, at least it is only 90 minutes (which like with sci-fi in Simulant, most fantasy epics feel so stretched out these days.) The animation is also impressive with the beautiful hybrid style I love so much.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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